Thursday, August 29, 2013

Going Bananas in the Land of St. Honore'

She woke with a start. It had been a horrible dream. The twins, her granddaughters who live on the other side of the country, were grown up in the dream. One was a dental tech and the other was a personal trainer at a gym...and neither one of them knew what to do with the ingredients on the kitchen counter in her dream; the softened butter, the sugar, flour, molasses, eggs, nuts, chocolate chips. They had a birth right, as anyone in our land has, to bake, yet they had no idea how to measure flour, soften butter, or even how to crack an egg. This was terrible! No child in the Land of St. Honore' should be flummoxed about baking something.

Eva decided she would do something so that this dream never became a reality. Well, maybe they would become a personal trainer and a dental tech, but she would make sure that they knew how to bake. Not only would they not be mystified at the sight of an egg, they would know how to separate eggs and whisk whites and bake a lovely, light, luscious, delectable cake.

First she waited until a decent hour, then called her daughter, their mom. She had to time the call just right because Grace would be leaving home soon to go to work. She was a CPA high up in her firm. Although she had been taught, she never baked. 'No time' was her excuse.

"Grace, I would love to have the girls visit me at Christmas, or even Thanksgiving, if that's possible. I know that they are always busy with volleyball and chess club and the debate team, but could you find a few days when they could spend a little time with me?" Eva was tempted to add "before its too late" but didn't think her daughter would be so easily led.

Grace had a particularly difficult client at the moment, so she agreed. Better that her girls have some fun instead of being saddled with a babysitter when she had to work extra. At eleven years old they were getting a bit beyond babysitters anyway.

Eva was thrilled. They were coming the day before Thanksgiving. They could bake pies for Thanksgiving, perhaps make dinner rolls, and surely they could make a cake, too. She could hardly wait!

Plans changed and they arrived the day after Thanksgiving. No one wanted pies or dinner rolls and a cake seemed too rich after all the holiday food. Still, there were some ripe bananas to use up. Time to bake a classic banana bread...with a twist. She wanted to use molasses and to add chocolate chips, just for fun.

The girls were a bit hesitant at first, but soon got into the swing of things, measuring flour and sugar, mashing bananas, and, yes, cracking some eggs and finding out that bits of shells could be removed from the eggs in the bowl, with care.

They giggled at the slow movement of the molasses and had fun getting their fingers greasy while using the butter wrapper to grease the bread pan.

Their faces beamed with big smiles when they brought the first piece of baked banana bread to their Granddad. They were even happier when he exclaimed over the texture, flavor and deliciousness. They were hooked! Eva knew that on their next visit that they would bake that cake with her. Their heritage was intact.

You, too, can keep the arts of baking alive. This banana bread is easy, uses up very ripe bananas, and can be packed in a lunchbox or used as an afternoon pickup or quick bite in the morning. If you make it with half regular flour and half whole wheat flour it is almost healthy...after all, it has fruit.

Banana Bread with Walnuts and Chocolate
makes one loaf

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup molasses, dark is best
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas (or 2 large), mashed
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan (you can use the butter wrapper if you've already put the soft butter into the mixing bowl. That is what the twins did).

Beat butter, molasses and sugar together until fluffy. It's OK if it looks curdled.

Add eggs and banana pulp and beat well.

Add sifted dry ingredient's, vanilla, and buttermilk. Mix just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in nuts, and chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake about 1 hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick in center. When done, toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it. Cool well.

Store overnight before cutting...if you can wait that long. A serrated knife makes cutting easier.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

More Tomato Love

We have been having a little heat, so the cherry tomatoes have been ripening up at a good clip. I've given three or four pints away and today cooked up two pounds to use as the base for some awesome home made pizzas. More ways to love those tomatoes.

With the oven preheating to a toasty 500 degrees F, I made sure they all were sans stem and clean. Some were ripe enough that the skins had juicy! Some were tiny, some were about the size of a walnut, and everything in between. Red, yellow, orange and gold orbs, uncut, went into a large plastic bag to be coated with olive oil, then  onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I did sprinkle a little garlic salt and grind a little pepper on them, but otherwise they were just roasted until the skins were a bit browned.

I poured them into a big glass bowl and mashed them down a bit with a wooden spoon. Extra juices from the pan were scraped into the bowl too. That was it...the perfect tomato sauce for pizza, with skin and seed still in the mix for flavor and nutrition.

For the pizza, I spread spoonsful of the tomatoes over the shaped pizza dough, added dollops of ricotta cheese, sprinkles of

freshly chopped basil and Italian parsley and oregano, sprinkles of shredded mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkle of grated Parmesan.

It was excellent once baked! The crust had crisped up since it was baked on a pizza stone in a very hot oven. The intense flavor of the roasted tomatoes was offset beautifully by the mellow cheeses and the sharply herbal flavors of parsley, oregano and basil. We enjoyed it a lot, along with a nice Caesar salad. And then we had another (they were small) just to make sure that we liked that roasted cherry tomato sauce. We fact we loved it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tomato Love

I get a bit emotional about tomatoes. First because I spend a lot of time and thought on them: I start them from seeds in the late days of winter, tend the little plants with care, give a boatload of older, re-potted plants away to friends since there are almost always way more seedlings than I can handle, harden them off and then plant them in the spring. It is hard to see the seedlings that are left...unloved and I usually plant more than I should.

It doesn't stop there. Daily watering allows me to follow the growth of each plant, the formation of tiny tomatoes (often after a long, frustrating period when I get lots of blossoms and no fruit setting up) and the growth of those tomatoes to see what kind they might become. That last was especially true this year because when the plants were re-potted into larger peat pots I was deranged due to morphine residual from the hospitalization with a kidney stone, so I didn't really keep track of the varieties very well. It was actually kinda fun to see what I ended up with.

Then there is the looooooong wait until the tomatoes actually ripen. This year the cherry tomatoes came first and were a delight, but that first plate of sliced tomatoes, lightly seasoned with pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar sprinkles and a little garlic salt or sea salt is the ultimate pleasure. Until I have the first of the season BLT.

Now we are to the point where there are enough large tomatoes (and way too many cherry tomatoes) that I can share them. I also begin making different recipes that showcase the tomato.

Yesterday I threw together a seasonal veggie stew you might like. Chunks of juicy ripe Mortgage Lifter tomatoes added their summery flavor and color, but it also had sautéed onions and garlic, lots of fresh basil for fragrance, flavor and bite, slices of zucchini because I love zucchini, plus some yellow wax beans for color and texture and just a bit of beany flavor. Of course there was some pepper added, but no salt this time. Instead I added a splash of balsamic vinegar. All that was missing was eggplant, but I don't actually like eggplant, so I was fine with that.

This mixture went perfectly with a couple of small rectangles of this cheese and polenta grill that I posted about HERE. I suspect that it would also work well over almost any grain, as a filling for rolled up tortillas, maybe with some cheese, or even over pasta. For pasta you might want to cut up the veggies smaller when you start.

Do you have a favorite tomato recipe?

Tomato, Basil and Beans Together

1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh tomato chunks
1 cup sliced zucchini
1 cup fresh beans (I used yellow wax beans, but green string beans are great, too)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, sautee' the onions and garlic in the oil until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomato chunks, zucchini, beans, basil, and salt and pepper.

Stir to combine and heat until the zucchini is tender, about 8 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Friday, August 16, 2013

August BBB Delight Hints at Autumn

The days are truly getting shorter and school started in our neighborhood yesterday, so this month's Bread Baking Babes bread, Nut Roll Coffee Cake from our Kitchen of the Month Jaime of Life's a Feast, is perfect because it has the cinnamon and nuts that hint of holiday baking to come.

I only made half the recipe, baking it in a long loaf pan, but this one is so delicious that I urge you to make the full recipe, if only so that you can share it with friends. A rich, brioche-like dough is rolled around a most unusual filling. It's a nut meringue with cinnamon and the combination is amazing. Two of those lovely rolls are stacked, one on top of the other, in a tube pan, then allowed to rise a bit. After it is baked you let it cool a little bit before removing from the pan. You are supposed to let it cool completely according to the recipe, but don't. The warm, buttery, fragrant with cinnamon bread is tender and, frankly, addictive if you eat it while it retains some of the heat from the oven.

The remarkable thing about this bread is that it is a no-knead one. Rolling up the bread once you have spread on the meringue filling is about the hardest part of making this. If you have done anything with a jelly roll type rolling up, it will be a snap for you. The results will bring a smile to your face...and a desire for just another piece. The finished roll didn't look pretty when it came out of the pan, and it was a little hard to cut without making a mess since it had sunk a little while cooling, but it tasted so spectacular that we didn't care a bit.
Thanks to Jaime for picking such a perfect recipe for August. Do check out the bread baked by the other Bread Baking Babes. I'm also sending this over to Susan (Alumnae Babe) at Wild Yeast for her Yeast Spotting round up of the week.

Last, but not least, come bake with the Babes this month. Make the bread, snap a photo, send an e-mail to Jaime with a brief description of your baking experience (plus that photo) and she'll send you a Buddy Badge and include you in the round-up.

If you have kids going to school between now and the 29th, I can assure you that they will be thrilled to arrive home to the warm fragrance of cinnamon which will perfume the house when you bake this Nut Roll Coffee Cake.
Here is the full recipe from Jamie:
You will need a stand mixer or beaters to whip egg whites for the meringue filling and a 10-inch (standard) tube pan.

For the dough:
2 packages (1/4 ounce/7 g each) active dry yeast
¼ cup (@ 65 ml) warm water (110°F to 115°F)
16 Tbs (225 g) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup (125 ml) warm 2% fat/lowfat milk (110°F to 115°F)
4 egg yolks
2 Tbs sugar
¾ tsp salt
 2 ½ cups (350 g*) all-purpose flour (I use French regular flour), more as needed

* when I measure flour I spoon lightly into the measuring cup and then level off so 1 cup usually weigh approximately 140 g 

For the filling:
3 egg whites
1 cup + 3 Tbs sugar, divided
2 cups ground walnuts
2 Tbs 2% fat/lowfat milk
2 tsps ground cinnamon

The day before, prepare the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add the butter, milk, eggs yolks, sugar, salt and flour. Beat until smooth – the mixture will be sticky. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The day of baking, prepare the filling:
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, on high speed until the sugar is incorporated and dissolved.

In a large bowl, combine the walnuts, milk, cinnamon and remaining sugar; fold in the meringue.

Prepare the Coffee Cake:
Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured work surface, roll each portion into an 18 x 12 –inch (45 x 30 cm) rectangle. Spread half of the filling evenly over each rectangle within 1/2 –inch (1 cm) of the edges. Roll each up jelly-roll style, starting with the long side; pinch seam to seal.

Place one filled roll, seam side up, in the greased tube pan. Place the second roll, seam side down.
Let rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before removing the coffee cake from the pan to a cooling rack to cool completely. Top may crack when cooling.

Eat as is or drizzle with glaze or dust with powdered sugar.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Plenty of Cherry Tomatoes

With foggy mornings and sunny afternoons being the norm, my cherry tomato plants are producing like crazy. Every day there are more dots of color among the branches, just waiting to be picked. The most prolific has been the sun gold type, but I'm also getting red ones and yellow ones and orange ones. Yesterday I had enough to give a heaping basket to the firemen at the fire station, another basket for Grandma L and plenty for our dinner salad.

Usually I don't post salads or soups because in my world those are not really recipes. I throw in whatever I have on hand in the amounts that look right, usually directly from the cutting board to the bowl or pot, so there are rarely measurements taken.

Last night's dinner salad was a perfect example. First into the bowl was a small head of romaine lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces. Next in were chunks of green patty pan squash, red and yellow small cherry tomatoes, cut in half, followed by some avocado chunks and a sprinkle of raisins. The amounts were, roughly, 1/3 cup of the squash, 1 cup of the tomatoes, 1/2 avocado, and 3 tablespoons raisins. It was a great mixture, mostly crunchy but with the occasional bit of soft avocado and almost soft raisin.

When you have plenty of cherry tomatoes, what do you make?

Friday, August 09, 2013

Soda Bread with Blueberries

One of my treasured recipes is for Aunt May's Irish Soda Bread. It's in my book (Classic Comfort Food) and I throw it together for tea when I have the time and some buttermilk in the fridge.

Recently I ordered some more Irish Wholemeal Flour from King Arthur Flour. It is the perfect flour to use for this recipe, although I only use half wholemeal and half regular all-purpose flour. Today I also had some fat, ripe, deeply blue blueberries on hand. Never tried fresh blueberries in the soda bread before, but I'm glad I did. The soda bread is just firm enough a batter that the berries don't fall to the bottom like they sometimes do with blueberry muffins. The excellent flavors of wheat and buttermilk of the bread go really well with the tang of the blueberries...and they look pretty.

I only made half the batter, so it was about 1/2 cup of blueberries for this one. For the full recipe I would put in a cup of the blue beauties. Although you can certainly add some butter to the slices once baked, there is enough butter in the batter that you don't need it. With the blueberries bursting with warm juices, you really don't need anything else...except maybe a cup of tea.

Aunt May's Irish Soda Bread with Blueberries(the blueberries are not in Aunt May's version, but are yummy)
4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups Irish whole meal flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
8 oz. (1 stick) cold butter, in thin slices
2 ¼ cups buttermilk
1 cup blueberries
Sift the dry ingredients over the butter and cut in well with a fork or pastry blender.  Add the buttermilk and mix just until moist - don’t over-handle. Some dry stuff is OK, but the dough should be sticky. Turn dough out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, flatten the dough lightly, then pat on the blueberries. Pull dough gently over the fruit and pat into a rough circle. Cut a cross on top. Bake 45 minutes at 3500 F. Cool a bit before slicing.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Found this post (unposted) when I was going through drafts to delete unwanted ones. This pie was from Christmas 2012 and it was excellent! No, I'm really, really not thinking about Christmas this soon. I thought that if I posted it that the date would be from the draft, not today. Live and learn.

Pumpkin pie with a gingerbread crumb inner crust over a normal pie crust with more of the crumb mixture on top at the sides. From Southern Living, of course. Amazing take on a pumpkin pie!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Fast and Fun Burrito

Now that I live in California I'm surrounded with some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico, but when I was growing up on the East coast, I knew absolutely nothing about tacos and enchiladas and burritos much less empanadas or tamales or any other south-of-the-border foods.

When I lived in Berkeley I went to a dinner party where the highlight of the dinner was make-it-yourself burritos. I liked it so much that it soon became a staple of our busy lives. When you make a big pot of chili, there are leftovers and those become the centerpiece of the burrito. Add a tray with a pile of chopped fresh tomato, a pile of chopped cilantro, a pile of diced avocados or a bowl of guacamole, some sliced olives, a bowl of shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, a bowl of re-heated rice, a bowl of sour cream or plain yogurt and you are almost there. We used to add plain tortillas, heated briefly in the cast iron skillet and doled out as they were warmed. Now there are so many types of tortillas that we can have some flavored with tomato or spinach or herbs, but I often go with the plain tortillas I remember from my first encounter with this dish.

Once the children were grown and no longer around the dinner table, I lost track of this dish for some reason. I think we've had it half a dozen times at the most in the last dozen years. Today I needed a quick meal and remembered the left over chili in the fridge. Once I discovered a package of tortillas on the bottom shelf the rest was easy. Unfortunately we were out of avocados but it was OK. Even with a limited number of add-ons, it was just as much fun as I remembered. On a warm tortilla I laid out a rectangle of hot chili, sprinkled on some shredded cheddar cheese, a big pinch of cilantro, a dribble of plain yogurt, then folded it up into the classic burrito shape. Brought back great memories I can tell you!

You can make your own memories. This is a great meal to do with kids because they can make it their way. If you don't have chili you can use refried beans or kidney bean, black beans or pintos. If you do that, add some salsa and/or hot sauce for zest.

Sweetie ate up all the tomatoes we didn't put into the burritos and then we ate some wonderful Bing cherries for dessert. Fast, easy and fun.

Make Your Own Burritos

leftover chili OR
refried beans or kidney bean, black beans or pintos and some salsa or hot sauce
reheated cooked rice
shredded cheese
chopped cilantro
chopped tomatoes
1-2 avocados, peeled, pit removed and diced
plain yogurt or sour cream
sliced black olives, drained
shredded iceberg lettuce
more salsa and/or hot sauce
flour tortillas

Heat the chili, or beans and put into a serving dish.
On a tray arrange a bowl of warm rice, a pile of the cheese, a pile of cilantro, a pile of tomatoes, a pile of avocado, a dish of yogurt or sour cream, a bowl of olives, a pile of shredded lettuce. If you don't have any of the ingredients on the tray, don't worry...just serve what you have.
Put the salsa and/or hot sauce on the table, along with the dish of chili or beans, and the tray of fixins.
Heat the tortillas in a skillet or the oven to warm them. Serve wrapped in a towel to keep warm.

For each serving, put a warm tortilla on the plate. In the middle put a rectangle of chili, leaving enough room to wrap the tortilla around the fillings. Add your favorite fillings, salsa or sauces. Wrap by folding in one side, folding up the bottom, then the other side. Eat, being sure to have a napkin handy to catch any drips.